As general music specialists, we wear many different hats, offering our children opportunities to sing, move, play, listen, analyze and create in every lesson. I feel that learning to read music notation is also a critical piece of a child's music education; one that empowers them in many ways.
Over the course of their six years with me at Bear Lake, my students will play non-pitched percussion, mallet instruments, baritone ukuleles, boomwhackers, handbells and recorder.
How do I love the recorder? Let me count the ways . . . inexpensive, highly motivational to young players, a powerful tool for notation instruction . . . lots of bang for the buck! Beginning a recorder program can be a painful experience at first, but the rewards are rich in the end.
I don't teach recorder as an isolated curriculum unit, but as a tool throughout the year for notation instruction, musicianship and self-expression. I ask that each student buy their own instrument and take it home for practice each week. The home practice piece is crucial to being successful on recorder, as air management is challenging at first and the short amount of time they spend playing in music class is not nearly enough to become proficient and comfortable.
We are teaching a generation of students who operate in the "instant gratification" mode and often do not have the persistence to master a musical instrument. I explain to the children that the learning curve for their video games is short, taking just hours or days to master, but the learning curve for a musical instrument is very long, often taking months or years to become excellent. I tell them not to be frustrated, but to trust me and enjoy our journey together, taking small steps toward excellence.
I teach recorder in "small bites." We only play for five or ten minutes in most classes. I do a lot of echoing and teach the children a "pocketful of songs" (by rote) to carry around and enjoy. I suggest they play for family and friends, at church or temple, scout meetings, Skyping Grandma and Grandpa, etc.
In addition to the basic tone and technique building, I put notation in front of the children every chance I get. I begin by pointing to charts on the board and progress on to children using a textbook and tracking on their own. This initial reading time is challenging for the children and I use LOTS of positive encouragement and fun activities to keep them interested and motivated.
Because composed tunes that address a particular skill are critical to development, I wrote my own textbook a number of years ago. Most of the textbooks I owned were full of tunes the children knew - but tunes don't teach technique or musicianship nearly as well as age-appropriate exercises. My text, Recorder Express, is full of exercises that lay a strong musical foundation, as well as all the tunes the children love to play - applying the skills learned earlier
My approach to teaching recorder definitely aims for a high level of musical literacy, as well as providing a source of self-expression, joy and self-esteem to every single student, regardless of ability.
I encourage you to start using recorders as a fundamental component of your general music program. Start small and enjoy the musical growth and happiness that you and your students will experience throughout the school year.